Tag Archives: SEO best practices

Written by Caroline Cox on Mar 2, 2022

Search engine optimization is a key part of a well-rounded digital marketing program — but most of the time, SEO takes time to show significant results.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Why proper SEO is a long game
  • Ways to manage expectations when it comes to SEO
  • Why SEO is still key for a well-rounded marketing strategy
  • The “quick wins” that may boost your SEO faster

Instagram, Instacart, Instant Pot – we all want things to happen ASAP.

But, as it turns out, “I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it” isn’t exactly a realistic expectation — particularly for search engine optimization (SEO). 

When done right, SEO takes time to build. And any team or agency that tells you differently is probably setting you up for disappointment. 

Here, our Client Success Manager Taylor Wills and Lead Strategist Charlotte Soto break down why, even though proper SEO takes time and often doesn’t bring instant results, it’s still well worth the investment.

People renovating the house concept

Proper SEO is like proper home construction — you need a strong foundation to build on. (Image: Rawpixel)

Starting to invest in SEO

If you’re at the beginning of your journey investing in SEO, chances are your site’s UX and SEO functionalities need to be built. 

Think of it the way a new home is constructed: before the bells and whistles can be added (like doors and a roof), the home’s foundation needs to be sturdy. 

Creating a sturdy foundation is often a multi-step process that includes:

  • Disavowing toxic links
  • Assessing Core Web Vitals and site speed
  • Laying out an SEO strategy
  • Trying to build trust in the eyes of Google

Even if you’ve worked with an SEO agency in the past, it’s still a good idea to have an in-depth competitor insight audit conducted. Before a new agency or team can tackle technical items or content audits, they first have to look “under the hood,” so to speak, to make informed decisions. 

Before things like revamping meta descriptions and title tags, creating content, links, and other tasks, they’ll likely want to see what’s trending for your industry, what competitors are showing for, and understand the alignment of your brand’s target persona. 

All these elements work together to create slow but steady growth. Especially when organic search gets the lion’s share of clicks, the approach has to be well-thought out and represent the brand accurately. 

SEO vs. PPC timelines

When it comes to pay-per-click (also called PPC or paid search) marketing, you can more easily convince Google to surface your ad for certain keywords. You can do this through your ad copy, bidding strategy, and keyword choice. 

With SEO, it’s more of a waiting game — with constantly changing rules. Essentially, with SEO you have to wait for Google to notice that your content is relevant to a certain keyword. With PPC, you can pay to be relevant.

Think of it like a school dance: two people have equal dancing skills. PPC is cutting a rug out on the floor to prove they’ve got talent, while SEO is sitting on the bleachers, waiting to be chosen. 

Pro tip: SEO isn’t just about the elements of your actual website — off-site SEO matters too.

How to manage SEO timetable expectations

Once your agency or in-house team has decided to start an SEO project, it’s key to manage expectations. Experience tells us that it usually takes at least two-to-three months to see any significant progress with SEO. 

The good news: Once you have a strong SEO presence, it’s easier to maintain. Not only that, but it can benefit your overall digital marketing efforts in a huge way. 

These benefits include:

Another way to manage expectations is by having your marketing team assess competitor profiles to see what’s achievable. This process can answer questions like:

  • How much are other companies investing in backlink profiles? 
  • What are their average monthly content outputs? 
  • What’s the history of the domain? 
  • What’s the keyword difficulty of desired terms? 
  • Is your monthly budget realistic to meet your goals?

Need more help improving your SEO? You’ve come to the right place.

African american female empowering other colleagues in workplace

Even if you’re outsourcing the content on your site, it’s important to work with your marketing team to keep the lines of communication open. (Image: Rawpixel)

SEO “quick wins”

There’s no secret trick to skyrocket your content to the first page of Google results. However, there is certain low-hanging fruit that SEO pros can go after right off the bat. 

Things like improving site speed, website experience, and gaining rankings for keywords just out of reach are all examples of immediate short-term gains. It’s possible to see these results within a few months.

It’s also wise to go after local SEO wins. If you’ve got a physical business location, make sure you’ve claimed your Google Business Profile and publish posts on your profile when you can. Google tends to reward companies that use their platforms. 

It can also help to tackle low-competition keywords first before going after those highly sought-after industry terms. This way, Google can start understanding that you’re an authority in your respective space. 

And don’t forget to share your content on social media platforms. There’s a strong correlation between social engagement and organic rankings

Pro tip: Don’t have Schema markup on your site? Implementing it could result in a few fast wins.

Collaboration aids in SEO

Content is collaborative. Even if you’re outsourcing the content on your site, it’s important to work with your marketing team to keep the lines of communication open. 

You know your business best, and marketers know what it takes to get content to perform on the SERP. By working together, you can publish content that speaks to your audience, is high-quality, and that’s primed for maximum search engine success.

The takeaway

No matter how you slice it, SEO takes time to build. It’s a marathon, not a sprint and, as the saying goes, slow and steady wins the race. (The race to the top of the SERP, that is.) 

Create a strong foundation, have realistic expectations, and set up a well-rounded SEO strategy that takes onsite and off-site factors into account. From there, you’ll be ready to see long-term SEO success for months and years to come.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Caroline Cox on Feb 21, 2022

Is your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy primed for success in 2022 and beyond?

Here, you’ll find:

  • Quick wins for optimizing your website
  • The must-have elements of quality content
  • The latest Google features to leverage
  • New SEO trends to keep an eye on

It’s like the classic saying goes: An SEO pro’s work is never done. 

…OK, so maybe I made that up. But the sentiment holds true. 

With the ever-changing algorithm and constant advances in technology, optimizing your website for search engine results is (and should be) an ongoing process.

The good news? Putting SEO best practices into place now can set you up for success months and years down the road. 

These tactics will ensure you’ve got a top-notch site and add value to your overall brand. They’ll also show prospects and users that your company is one they can trust.

A well-rounded SEO plan includes both on-site (elements on your own website) and off-site (things like backlinks and social media) optimization. While you have more control over your on-page SEO, there are things you can do for both categories to get your site as much exposure as possible.

Let’s dive in.

HawkSEM: Best Practices to Boost Your SEO

Think of an SEO audit like a wellness check for your website. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Plan regular SEO audits

Multiple factors go into making sure your site is optimized for the search engine results page (SERP). That’s why it’s a good idea to conduct an SEO audit at least once a year. 

This process will give you a holistic view of where your SEO currently stands. The steps to conducting a thorough SEO audit are:

  • Perform a technical audit using a site-crawler tool
  • See what pages are indexed in search engines
  • Review mobile friendliness
  • Test page speed
  • Analyze on-site user behavior
  • Revisit your personas and audience
  • Conduct keyword research
  • Audit your content strategy
  • Analyze your link profile
  • Review backlink and internal linking strategies

There are other elements of your site that can affect SEO. Things like your domain’s security (especially if people log in or are asked to submit their info on places like landing pages), long-tail keywords, and compressed media files are factors as well.

A content audit can also help identify topic gaps to fill. Which themes related to your business have you not covered? Which related keywords are your competitors outranking you for? 

Often, these chosen topics relate to the products or services your business offers. Narrow them down, then use a tool like Google Keyword Planner to determine the popularity and competition for these keywords.

Pro tip: Want an idea of where you stand before conducting a full SEO audit? You can use a website grader tool that’ll instantly tell you how your site’s SEO stacks up.

2. Create (or update) your content strategy

The more content you create, the more data you can gather, the more topics you can cover, and the more opportunities you have to optimize your site for search engines.

Your content strategy serves as a high-level look at your content goals and how you plan to achieve them. Plus, it’s one of the most effective SEO best practices you can adopt.

Whether you create a doc, a slideshow, or go old-school with pen and paper, your content strategy should include:

  • Goals
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Target personas
  • Tactics
  • Creation process
  • Projects

Your strategy should also include how often you plan to publish content. It’s also wise to have a content creation checklist to ensure each published piece is optimized and consistent before it goes live. 

Optimized content generally features elements like:

  • Subheadings
  • Title tags
  • Internal and external links
  • Meta descriptions
  • Sentences and paragraphs that are easy to digest
  • Images with alt text

Pro tip: Stay organized with a content marketing calendar that includes details about published pieces and those you want to publish in the future.

3. Embrace video marketing

There are plenty of reasons why video belongs in your marketing strategy. It’s fast becoming a highly effective content tool. Plus, it serves as a great way to increase page time and boost engagement. 

HubSpot reports that 87% of marketers say video gives them a positive ROI.

Once you’ve mapped out a strategy and created your first video, don’t forget to optimize it. You can maximize your video success with SEO best practices including:

  • Choose an engaging thumbnail image
  • Create a thoughtful title and meta description
  • Optimize the page itself that the video is hosted on
  • Explore paid ad options for promotion
  • Include captions or subtitles within your video

Pro tip: It’s a good idea to create a YouTube channel to host your videos. YouTube is a (free) Google product, which means these videos often perform well in the search engine’s algorithm.

4. Prioritize mobile-first indexing

The masterminds at Google rolled out mobile-first indexing in the spring of 2018. Before this, Google was crawling and ranking the desktop version of a website.

If your website was published after July 1, 2019, mobile-first indexing is enabled by default, according to Search Engine Journal.

So, what does this mean for you? Your site has to look sharp on mobile to rank well. That means no wonky formatting, no slow page loads, and no weird margins that make reading or scrolling nearly impossible.

You can use Google’s mobile-friendly test tool or do a spot check on your pages by pulling them up on your mobile device to see how they’re responding and rendering. 

If you don’t have a mobile-friendly site, it will continue to pull your desktop version, but this leaves you more prone to a sub-par user experience and search engine results page (SERP) ranking.

HawkSEM: Best Practices to Boost Your SEO

Data also shows that images with descriptive captions perform even better — like, ahem, this one. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Get your site up to speed

Speed remains a vital part of following SEO best practices. Not only is it a factor in Google’s recently released Core Web Vitals ranking metrics, but a slow-loading page can lead to a high bounce rate.

Images and video are two features that can affect page speed since these tend to be larger files. More — and larger — files mean more HTTP requests, which means more load time. 

Make sure the files you’re uploading aren’t bigger than necessary (they don’t need to be magazine-quality high-res photos to look good on your site). And consider enabling compression, so your files are compressed (aka smaller) and take less time to load.

Enabling browser caching can also help, as this means the page isn’t loading completely from scratch each time it’s visited.

6. Don’t underestimate good visuals

Visuals don’t just catch the reader’s eye — they also help bring your content to life. 

Our in-house experts recommend using at least two images per blog post, whether that means photographs, well-designed graphics, or something else.

But don’t just slap a couple of photos into your copy and call it a day. The images you choose should make sense for the topic you’re covering, and the look should feel in line with your brand, even if you’re using stock imagery.

By now, you probably know what’s coming next: optimizing!

Once you’ve found some high-quality photos and compressed them to the proper size to keep your page speed and formatting on point, make sure to include proper alt text that corresponds to the image. 

This is what will show up if someone has images disabled on their device, or potentially if they hover their mouse over the image. Data also shows that images with descriptive captions perform better.

7. Monitor your reviews

Brand sentiment is part of what the algorithm takes into consideration. Because of this, it’s wise to keep a close eye on your reviews across your Google Business Profile, Facebook page, and other various review sites. 

Negative reviews should be publicly addressed, if possible, as long as the comment seems authentic and not like spam (you should be able to tell the difference). 

Do what you can to turn this disgruntled customer’s opinion around. It could be as easy as:

  • Offering a refund
  • Getting them on the phone with a customer service rep to sort out an issue
  • Appealing to their emotions and making them feel heard
  • Apologizing for a miscommunication, misunderstanding or mixup (which could result in the person deleting their negative review entirely)

But don’t just respond to the negative reviews. SEO best practices suggest acknowledging and thanking someone for a positive review makes your happy client feel seen and valued. And, as we know, word of mouth is one of the most effective marketing tools around.

8. Keep featured snippets in mind

Featured snippets are a SERP feature that often show up when someone asks a question in the search box. The snippet result usually includes what the algorithm deems the most relevant answer.

Featured snippets are usually found in the space between paid search ads and ranked results, sometimes accompanied by an image or video. 

Types of featured snippets include:

  • Video 
  • Table
  • List
  • Paragraph

In recent years, Google has made some tweaks to featured snippets. These include, in some cases, taking users straight to the blurb being referenced in the snippet when they click the link (sometimes with the featured text highlighted).  

While there’s no “one weird trick” to snagging a featured snippet, there are a few ways to prime your content for this spot on the SERP, such as:

  • Dating your content
  • Avoiding first-person language
  • Thoroughly answering a “why”-based query
  • Following the format of existing featured snippets

Want even more expert tips to up your SEO game? Let’s chat.

voice search - seo 2021

The algorithm’s goal is to help people find answers and resources they need. (Image via Unsplash)

9. Examine your structured data

Structured data, also called Schema markup, is one way search engine bots crawling your site can understand your website content. This is an important part of healthy technical SEO: the better bots understand your content, the better your chances are of ranking in search results.

Schema is a type of vocabulary with tags you can add to the HTML markup of your web pages and emails. 

One of Schema’s biggest benefits is that it can enhance the snippets that appear below your page title on the SERP. It allows you to add enriching content like a publish date or rating, rather than simply the meta description.

Pro tip: There are hundreds of Schema types. Those unfamiliar can use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper to add structured data to their sites.

10. Own and manage your backlinks

Oh, backlinks — one of those SEO best practices that’s as valuable as it is elusive. 

While there’s no real shortcut to getting quality backlinks, by putting in the work, it’s still possible to begin seeing SEO-boosting results. The first step is to measure up your site’s current backlinks, then compare the results with those of your competitors. 

Sites that will link to your competitors are likely to link to you as well — if your content is optimized, high-quality, and relevant. (It’s also a good idea to link to relevant, high-authority sites.)

When reaching out about backlink opportunities, it’s key to prioritize personalization, show the value you’re offering, and focus on building a relationship with this business vs. asking for a favor out of the blue.

Some ways you can encourage backlinks to your site include:

  • Publishing unique stats, research, or findings
  • Guest blogging on other sites
  • Leveraging industry influencers
  • Reaching out to sites with directories (like a site’s resources page)

While backlinks are important, it’s worth noting that — as SEO experts point out — it’s not necessarily a numbers game. Quality will win over quantity, and backlinks are just one of many ranking factors that search engines take into account.

The takeaway

The algorithm’s goal is to help people find answers and resources they need. By implementing the above SEO best practices, not only will your site become easier to find, but you’ll be able to better connect with users and customers who can benefit from what you have to offer. 

Whether you’re fine-tuning your current strategy or starting from scratch, now is a great time to assess your goals, evaluate your current practices, and implement a stellar SEO plan.

This article has been updated and was originally published in September 2019.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Caroline Cox on Jul 16, 2021

When paired with strong on-site SEO, off-site SEO can help strengthen your brand’s authority and credibility online. 

Here, you’ll find:

  • How to define off-site SEO
  • What elements fall under this SEO umbrella
  • Red flags to look out for
  • Expert tips on maintaining healthy off-site SEO

There are three main pieces that make up a complete search engine optimization (SEO) strategy: on-site, technical, and off-site. On-site SEO includes things like content. Technical SEO includes alt text, meta descriptions, and site architecture. Then there’s off-site SEO.

Below, HawkSEM Director of Marketing Strategy Maria Smart helps explain everything you need to know about this vital SEO pillar.

What off-site SEO is

Also called off-page SEO, off-site SEO covers all the SEO tactics that take place outside of your own website. (Tactics on your own site are considered on-site SEO, for obvious reasons.) 

As Moz explains, optimizing for off-site ranking factors involves improving search engine and user perception of a site’s popularity, relevance, trustworthiness, and authority.

woman at computer with coffee

There are strategic steps you can take to maintain healthy off-site search engine optimization that shouldn’t consume too much of your time. (Image via Rawpixel)

What elements factor into off-site SEO

Some elements of off-site SEO are things you have a degree of control over. Others may be out of your hands, though you can attempt to influence them. 

As HubSpot explains, this includes but is not limited to things such as:

  • Backlinks
  • Brand building
  • Citation building
  • Content marketing
  • Video marketing (YouTube)
  • Forums
  • Local SEO
  • Review management

How can you help influence good off-site SEO? Maria says that optimizing your citations is a great start. You can’t exactly control reviews published about your company, other than trying to offer the best customer experience possible. But what you can do, particularly with negative reviews, is mitigate, respond, and try to take the conversation offline.

The same goes for social profiles like YouTube and Google My Business pages. It’ll benefit your off-site SEO to clean up any duplicate efforts and know how your profiles look on the search engine results page (SERP).

Pro tip: Consider creating a recurring reminder or calendar alert to stay on top of profiles and check in on them at regular intervals if possible. This way, you can be sure all of your pages have the most up-to-date images, contact info, operating hours, and more.

How off-site SEO benefits your brand

Off-site SEO is an important component of a well-rounded SEO plan. It addresses a host of important ranking factors that Google considers when evaluating your website’s trustworthiness beyond authoritative content and having a technically healthy site. 

Social media signals such as likes and followers can also be considered off-site SEO, as well as guest posting, link building, press releases and the like, Maria adds. Basically, all of these elements come together to help paint a picture of your business in online spaces outside of your website.

Effective ways to maintain good off-site SEO

Luckily, there are strategic steps you can take to maintain healthy off-site search engine optimization that shouldn’t consume too much of your time. 

Here are some ways to keep yours in good standing:

  • Monitor your social presence – Respond to reviews, update profiles, and add new photos when applicable.
  • Join and participate in forums and relevant communities – Find out where consumers in your field are gathering online and having discussions so you can add your own thoughts and connect with potential new customers.
  • Guest post on relevant websites and attempt to garner backlinks in the process – While some experts argue that simply guest-blogging to get a link isn’t efficient, we say it can be worth it in certain circumstances. Just make sure you’re creating highly relevant content that provides actual value for the reader.
  • Link building – Reach out as often as you can to relevant sources to get the placement you want in their articles or on their website.
  • Create and syndicate press releases – Press releases help you promote new solutions, business changes, and industry insights. (They also include a backlink when possible.)
  • Local presence – Be sure to maintain related citations in places like Google My Business and Bing Places.
  • Consider creating infographics – This type of content can be a source of engagement that can be easily shared on social media. To get good links, you need good engaging content, including graphics.

Pro tip: According to Ahrefs, “Google takes into account many off-page factors when deciding if and where to rank web pages. Links are one of those factors, but there are many others. For that reason, it’s challenging to rank on the merit of your content alone.”

woman searching with binoculars in the woods

Off-site SEO is just as important as its on-site and technical counterparts. (Image via Unsplash)

Red flags to keep an eye on

When you’re assessing the current health of your SEO, Maria says there are a few things in particular to look out for. 

These include:

  • Not ranking well for branded terms 
  • A backlink profile that is small and not authoritative or relevant
  • No local presence online
  • Poor social engagement
  • A website with low domain authority
  • Online reviews that are poor, non-existent, or even just unanswered

Off-site SEO is affected by all of these things. Working to take care of these issues can make your business look more authoritative to search engines, since all of these “signals” get calculated into your overall domain authority, whether your company is new or established.

The takeaway

It’s clear that off-site SEO is just as important as its on-site and technical counterparts. The tricky thing is that off-site elements are a bit harder to control. 

However, when you know the best practices and what common missteps to look out for, you can include off-site SEO maintenance in your overall SEO plan and know that you’re being intentional about keeping yours in a good place.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Caroline Cox on May 26, 2021

Everything you need to know about search engine optimization (SEO)

Here, you’ll find:

  • How to define search engine optimization
  • Why SEO is an important part of digital marketing
  • What makes up a good SEO strategy
  • SEO trends worth keeping an eye on

It’s no secret that, in today’s digital marketing landscape, it’s all about the search engine. Whether you rely on organic reach or leverage paid ads, getting on page 1 of the search engine results page (SERP) is always the goal.

But it doesn’t come easy. The algorithm changes often, and new competitors can crop up anytime. Having a site that’s optimized for search engines can be the game-changing factor that helps your brand stand out.

For the full 411 on SEO, let’s dive in.

What is SEO?

The point of SEO is to rank organically for relevant searches to your website without having to pay for ads. As we’ve mentioned before, following SEO best practices helps ensure your site is set up for success. These strategies also add value to your overall brand while showing prospects and users that your company is one they can trust.

One of the most effective SEO methods is to publish well-written, original content that can inform people or answer their questions. Unfortunately, SEO isn’t quite as simple as that. And just having quality content is only scratching the surface. 

What is “the algorithm” and how does it affect SEO?

Google (along with all other search platforms such as Bing) has a search engine algorithm that takes hundreds to thousands of different aspects into consideration when a user enters keywords or a query. 

That’s why, when we say “search engine optimization,” we’re talking about setting up your site to show search engines that your brand is relevant, trustworthy, and legitimate in relation to your industry. 

Paid and organic search results on the SERP for a query about creating a gallery wall

Here’s a look at paid and organic search results on the SERP for a query about creating a gallery wall.

You can learn about the process and guidelines Google adheres to make sure their algorithm “meet high standards of relevance and quality” here. However, search engines keep marketers on their toes by regularly rolling out tweaks and updates without much (or any) advanced notice. 

Since it launched, Google has gone from making only a handful of algorithm updates every now and then to rolling out thousands of changes each year. These updates come with varying levels of impact on the search engine results page, or SERP, according to Search Engine Journal.

Because of this, it’s worth your time to focus on white-hat, long-game SEO techniques rather than trying to game the system through black-hat “quick wins.” The latter may get your site penalized down the line (more on that below). 

Key factors that help determine which results will appear for your query are:

  • Meaning of your query
  • Relevance of web pages
  • Content quality
  • Usability of web pages
  • Context and settings

How Core Web Vitals affect your SEO

In 2021, Google officially rolled out Core Web Vitals. Basically, this is a new set of ranking metrics that take things like speed, responsiveness and visual stability of pages on your site into account. 

As the search engine itself explains, “the Core Web Vitals report shows how your pages perform, based on real world usage data (sometimes called field data).” Core Web Vitals are made up of three specific measurements: Largest Contentful Paint (loading), First Input Delay (interactivity), and Cumulative Layout Shift (visual stability). 

Core Web Vitals are graded on a scale of pass, needs improvement, or fail. The way your site scores can impact how you’ll rank on the SERP.

Pro tip: As Google enhances its machine learning capabilities, Search Engine Journal advises marketers to keep “semantic SEO” in mind in 2021. Basically, this means choosing topics relevant to your audience, discerning searcher intent, and making your resource as rich and in-depth as possible.

How to start your SEO off on a clean slate

Whether your site is brand-now or has been around for a decade or more, it’s never too late to put good SEO practices in place. Even if everything looks fine and dandy, websites can have hidden technical SEO errors. These may not appear or be visible to the end user, but Google’s crawlers can detect it in the website’s code. Depending on the issue, this could cause your site to get penalized. 

Put simply: If too many “red flags” exist on a site, Google will value it less than a competitor’s site. Because of this, your site may not rank well despite having original, informative, and high-quality content.

Other issues Google dings your site for include:

  • 404 error pages (aka broken links)
  • Missing or duplicate meta tags
  • Pagination issues (such as too many indexable URLs)
  • Thin content
A 404 error page from Mailchimp

A 404 error page from Mailchimp.

To avoid Google undervaluing your site, making sure it’s “clean” is an important first step. Once you have a solid base to build off of, you can focus on content strategy and creation, links, schema markup, and other optimizations.

This stage can be time-consuming. You may want to look into having your developer crawl the site and conduct a wellness check or getting an SEO audit from a marketing agency.

Pro tip: Use this SEO-friendly website checklist for a quick-and-easy way to see how well your site is set up for organic search engine success.

Building an SEO-friendly website

A website with good SEO tactics in place often starts with proper site architecture. This refers to the way your site is structured, how users navigate it, and the ways pages are reached. The quicker and more straightforward your site navigation, the easier it’ll be for visitors to get the information they’re looking for. 

Whether you’re launching a new website or redesigning an existing one, here are some SEO best practices to keep in mind:

  • Test out new site elements on a staging site before pushing them live
  • Implement redirects along with meta tags to avoid losing any SEO rankings you’ve already built up
  • Update all buttons, logos, and forms 
  • Make sure there’s no duplicate content

SEO through quality content

Whether your business is e-commerce, financial services, or something in between, having well-written content on your site is beneficial for so many reasons. Not only does it strengthen your SEO, but it can educate your audience, show that you’re a thought leader in your industry, and help attract more visitors to your brand. 

When you’re crafting a quality content marketing strategy, key steps include:

  • Fleshing out your personas
  • Defining your voice and tone
  • Determining the keywords you want to cover through content
  • Deciding the best brainstorming, writing, and editing process
  • Prioritizing promotion
  • Regularly analyzing performance

If you want your content to help boost your SEO, it’s important to pay attention to grammar and spelling. One way to think of it is: If an English teacher were to grade your website like a paper, would they give you an A, C, or an F? Google’s algorithm will read your content like an English teacher, and will also grade it (to a degree).

Tips for creating quality content

Once you’ve determined your relevant keywords and search terms, it’s time to work on creating the content. At the beginning of the writing process, think about how your content can answer questions of:

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • Why
A content calendar example from a SaaS company

A content calendar example from a SaaS company.

Pro tip: When creating content, avoid keyword stuffing. This practice of over-inserting the keyword you’re trying to rank for is frowned upon. Plus, Google can recognize when someone is clearly mentioning a search term repeatedly and downgrade your ranking.  

Once you feel confident about your content output and strategy, it’s wise to plan on regular content audits. This will allow you to identify old posts, high-performing pieces, and other content-related factors that will impact SEO. 

Search engines favor new, robust content. By continuing to optimize pages, you can benefit from the long history attached to a URL while making sure the info on your site is timely, accurate, and up to date.

What are some stats on SEO?

  • More than 51% of smartphone users have discovered a new company or product via a search on their smartphone.
  • 72% of consumers say search is their first choice to find information on local merchants.
  • Today, more people use search engines to find products or services than any other marketing channel.
  • On average, B2B buyers conduct up to 12 searches before engaging with a brand.
  • Google has more than 92% of the search engine market share worldwide. 
  • 61% of marketers say improving SEO and growing their organic presence is their top inbound marketing priority.
  • 50% of search queries are four words or longer.

Metadata

As Moz explains, meta tags provide information about the webpage in its HTML. This info is dubbed “metadata.” While it’s not visible to your readers, it’s key nonetheless. Meta tags live in a page’s source code, and it’s used to tell search engines what a page is all about.

How meta titles and meta descriptions look when creating content in WordPress with the Yoast SEO plugin

Here’s how meta titles and meta descriptions look when creating content about performing a site migration in WordPress with the Yoast SEO plugin.

Having pages with proper meta tags (which includes a title and description that accurately represent the page’s content) can impact not only the ranking of your page, but your clickthrough rate (CTR) and bounce rates as well. 

When the preview for a page is accurate and lines up with the page’s content, those in search of what you’re offering already have a good idea of what they’re going to get from that particular page.

Pro tip: Make sure your site features an SEO-friendly blog by leveraging internal and external links, posting in an easily readable format, including a descriptive URL, and having designated keywords.

Header tags

No matter how high quality the content or well designed the page, if your site features large blocks of plain text, you’re in danger of having eyes glaze over and people bouncing from your page. Much like the metadata, header tags (the most common being H1, H2, and H3) serve as a kind of outline or table of contents for each page. See that “Header tags” line above? It’s an H3 header tag.

These tags also serve to emphasize what a paragraph or section will be about. This makes it easy for readers to scroll to the parts of your page that particularly interest them. Header tags are also tied to SEO. Search engines can weigh these headings and subheadings more than the paragraph copy in terms of importance. 

If your blog title is H1, your headings are H2, and your subheadings are H3, they’ll be prioritized in that same order when it comes to the search engine. Also worth noting: While header tags extend to H6, most sites stick with H1-H3. 

Pro tip: Another way to get an edge over your competition? Conduct a competitor analysis for SEO. Identify their ranking keywords, analyze their content and website, and check out their Google My Business page. This can help you pinpoint areas of weakness you may be able to capitalize on and more. 

Backlinking

Linking is an incredibly important aspect to cultivating SEO that ranks you well. Having high-quality, highly relevant backlinks (links from another domain to yours) tells search engines that other sites trust yours, so end users probably can as well.

We’ve talked before about how more backlinks (also called inbound links) from credible sites help you rank higher on the SERP. Think of backlinks like endorsements. They’re used to let Google know your site is valuable and legitimate.

You can encourage backlinks to your site by: 

  • Publishing unique statistics, survey data, or other exclusive info
  • Writing guest blogs or being quoted on other credible websites
  • Partnering with influencers in your industry
  • Reaching out directly to sites you want backlinks on

When it comes to reaching out, there’s no magic formula. And, like SEO itself, it takes time. Your best bet, when cold-emailing another brand to request a backlink, is to keep the message short, make it personalized, and highlight the benefit for their site, not yours.

For example, if you find a well-known industry site is using outdated stats or content that you happen to have an up-to-date version of, send it to them and see if they’ll replace the older link.

Disavowing links

Not all backlinks are good, however. Spammy or “toxic” backlinks can lower your site’s domain authority and your rating. In turn, this lowers how trustworthy your site appears. If there are a bunch of spammy sites linking to yours, Google will treat your site as a terrible one as well. Consider it a “guilty by association” mindset.

Luckily, there are steps you can take to prevent low-quality sites from tanking your SEO rep. Disavowing these toxic sites (which tells Google not to associate these links with your website) is key to maintaining a higher standing with Google.

While external linking is important, internal linking shouldn’t be overlooked. Linking from your own pages to other pages on your site is beneficial in Google’s eyes. It can also be helpful to the end user as well (which, really, is a big reason why search engines value internal links).

Pro tip: When it comes to disavowing backlinks, Google warns that this advanced feature should be used with caution. You only want to disavow links that are sure to reflect negatively on your site. “If used incorrectly,” Google explains, “this feature can potentially harm your site’s performance in Google’s search results.”

Schema markup, structured data & rich snippets

Schema is a structured data vocabulary created by the major search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Yandex). Structured data is what helps these search engines better understand and define what a post or page is about. 

This special language can be added to an HTML markup as code to enhance the snippets that appear below your content on the SERP. With schema markup, you can add elements like a publish date, event schedule, or product rating. It can improve your SEO and CTR by adding context to your pages, thus helping you rank better.

Google’s structured data markup helper tool

Google’s structured data markup helper tool.

This additional content is referred to as “rich snippets.” If a normal snippet merely includes the URL, title tag, and meta description, any additional info is considered a rich snippet. 

You can add schema markup to your pages by visiting schema.org, selecting the type of markup that you want to use, and adding the code to your page. If you publish on a site like WordPress, you can add this data via plugins in a snap. Once added, you can test that the structured data was set up properly via Google’s structured data testing tool.

Pro tip: While adding structured data to your pages can boost SEO, adding it doesn’t guarantee that they will show up on the SERP, even if you’ve followed all of the steps correctly. 

What is local SEO?

Local SEO leverages content to answer locally relevant or location-based searches. HubSpot defines local SEO as a way to help businesses “promote their products and services to local prospects and customers. 

To gather information for local search, search engines rely on signals such as local content, social profile pages, links, and citations to provide the most relevant local results to the user.” 

“Near me” searches, or searches based around a local city or region, are extremely popular these days. In fact, 80% of consumers use search for local information. However, location-based searches are treated slightly differently than a standard search. If you own a local business, have a local blog, et cetera, then you’ll want to keep local SEO in mind.

Optimize for Google My Business

One way to do this is by making sure your site is optimized for Google My Business (GMB). This search engine feature aims to show that a business is relevant and authentic. As a bonus, GMB-optimized businesses may show up as a pullout sidebar on the SERP, giving your biz that much more exposure.

How HawkSEM’s Google My Business page looks on the SERP

How HawkSEM’s Google My Business page looks on the SERP.

Optimizing for Google My Business entails:

  • Creating a verified GMB page for your company
  • Garnering authentic online reviews from customers
  • Responding to these reviews using location-based info
  • Using Google Posts in your account (which allow you to share news and messages on your GMB page)

Other ways to optimize for local SEO include publishing location-specific content, adding separate location pages to your site (if your brand has locations in multiple cities), and making sure your NAP (name, address, and phone number) info is consistent and accurate across the web.

Accelerated mobile pages

The majority of searches are now done on mobile devices. In fact, Google rolled out mobile-first indexing in the spring of 2018 to take precedence over its traditional desktop index. Because of this, it’s crucial for your SEO to make sure your entire site is mobile friendly

Created by Google and Twitter, accelerated mobile pages (AMP) are a critical part of Google’s mobile approach. AMPs feature a more minimalist, stripped-down HTML version of a webpage for quick loading and easy access on mobile devices. 

It’s up to you whether or not AMPs are worth it for your business. While they may receive a favorable ranking on the SERP, these pages often don’t have as many elements or designs as regular pages. 

AMPs don’t appear to be going away anytime soon. That’s why it’s worth it to explore your options when it comes to enhancing your AMP content for Google Search and customizing these pages to fit your needs.

Important metrics

We often get asked what types of metrics or KPIs are most important to keep track of when it comes to SEO. In terms of core KPIs, we generally look at:

  • Organic sessions
  • Organic bounce rate
  • Average page views per session
  • Domain authority/rating
  • The number of keywords or search terms ranking in the top 3 results (above the fold, first page)
  • Keywords or search terms ranking on page 1 (in spaces 1-10)
  • Keywords or search terms ranking in spaces 11-50

The metrics you look at and prioritize will depend on factors like your goals and how long you’ve been actively implementing your SEO strategy.

White hat vs. black hat SEO

“White hat” and “black hat” are SEO techniques marketers can leverage when optimizing a site. Basically, white hat SEO techniques are ethical, Google-approved methods that are looked favorably upon by search engines. White-hat techniques include publishing high-quality content that speaks to a human audience, implementing a long-term SEO strategy, and including alt tags with your images.

Black hat, on the other hand, refers to methods that attempt to trick search engines by making a site appear more legitimate than it is. These common SEO mistakes include keyword stuffing, creating blogs for the sole purpose of generating links to other sites, and hiding “invisible text” in the code of your website in an attempt to game the algorithm.

Black hat methods are frowned upon by search engines. While it’s not against the law to use them, they can get your site flagged for violating guidelines or prevented from appearing in search results entirely. Plus, black hat techniques often result in a poor user experience with your website.

Then there’s “grey hat” SEO. These are SEO methods that, while not currently against search engine guidelines, could become viewed as black hat in the future. This includes posting fake reviews, offering incentives for online reviews, and purchasing expired domains for the sole purpose of linking or redirecting to your site.

Pro tip: Looking for strategies to grow your organic traffic? We’ve got 14 right here. 

How visuals enhance SEO

Speaking of alt tags, visuals are another important part of good site SEO. According to TechCrunch, 82% of all consumer IP traffic will be video in 2021. Not only that, but Search Engine Watch reports that video content has a 41% higher click-through rate than plain text.

If you have the bandwidth and budget, experimenting with video content could end up being what sets you apart from your competition on the SERP. Pages with videos are often visited for longer periods of time, and a longer visiting period can only mean good things when it comes to SEO.

In terms of photos, graphics, and other static imagery, Yoast explains that well-chosen images can complement your content and get you a good ranking in image search results.

“Alt tags” are alternative attributes on an image’s img tag. The purpose of this tag is to describe what the image is portraying, which not only helps the search engine understand the image, but it’s used as context for the visually impaired.

Depending on your website platform, it should be easy to add SEO-enhancing alt tags to your images as well as a title and meta description for your videos.

Pro tip: Videos can also be optimized by choosing an eye-catching thumbnail image, investing in paid ads for promotion, and adding captions.

HawkSEM: Why SEO Should Be Part of Your Marketing Strategy

Speed doesn’t just matter to users — it also matters to search engines.

Leverage SEO tools

Your search engine optimization maintenance doesn’t have to be a totally do-it-yourself process. Tools like Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools help easily monitor how your site is currently performing on the respective search engines. 

Once you set your site up on these platforms, you can view reports that’ll show you how your search performance is trending and more. They can also illuminate any issues that need fixing, like technical errors on your site that you may not be aware of. 

Why is site speed important for SEO?

Site speed, especially on mobile, is another highly important aspect with regards to SEO. That’s partially because a site that takes even a few seconds to load can cause a significant number of visitors to immediately bounce.

But speed doesn’t just matter to users — it also matters to search engines. Google has been upfront for years about how page speed is a ranking factor for them (though, admittedly, not a hugely significant one). You can test out how speedy your pages are with Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. 

The takeaway

Search engine optimization is important when it comes to ranking on the SERP and growing your reach. But, at the end of the day, the goal of a search engine is to connect users with the answers they seek.

As long as you (or your chosen SEO agency) follow the above tips — and have a fast website with high-quality content that’s engaging, unique, current, and helpful — you’ll be well on your way to boasting successful, strong SEO. 

This article has been updated and was originally published in January 2020.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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